Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight champion whose boxing feats, showmanship and political activism made him one of the best-known figures of the 20th century, died on Friday aged 74.
Ali, who had long suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome which impaired his speech and made the once-graceful athlete almost a prisoner in his own body, died a day after he was admitted to a Phoenix-area hospital with a respiratory ailment.
As the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama said Ali was “a man who fought for us” and placed him in the pantheon of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
“His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today,” Obama said in a statement.
Ali’s death was confirmed in a statement issued by his family spokesman late Friday evening.
“I am happy my father no longer struggles. He is in a better place. God is the greatest,” his daughter Maryum said on Saturday.
Few could argue with his athletic prowess at his peak in the 1960s. With his dancing feet and quick fists, he could - as he put it - float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
He was the first person to win the heavyweight championship three times.
But Ali became much more than a sportsman. He spoke boldly against racism in the ‘60s as well as against the Vietnam War.
During and after his championship reign, Ali met scores of world leaders and for a time he was considered the most recognizable person on Earth, known even in remote villages in countries far from the United States.